Seth Godin has done many things in his life. He’s the author of 18 books (some bestsellers), was the Vice President of Direct Marketing at Yahoo, and sold one of his early startups for $30 million.
In short, Seth is a smart man. A very smart man.
Nowadays, Seth is known for his blog, which hasn’t seen a design change in many, many years. He publishes very short pieces, most of which are shared on social media thousands of times.
I had the pleasure of meeting Seth at our original Authority Conference, and found time to ask him one very important question:
“Seth, how do you build an audience of loyal followers?”
He was somewhat cryptic with his response, but the one takeaway I had was this: You must prepare yourself for an uphill battle.
A few months ago, Seth wrote a short piece, Toward Dumber, where he lays the foundation of what I feel is truly the right path forward as it pertains to building an audience and the content you should serve them.
He starts out with this:
“If you want to reach more people, if you’re measuring audience size, then the mantra of the last twenty years has been simple: make it dumber.”
He goes on to say:
“Dumber is an intentional act, a selfish trade for mass. It requires us to hold something back, to avoid creating any discomfort, to fail to teach. Dumber always works in the short run, but not in the long run.”
He then makes the turn that I think we fundamentally understand:
“Don’t confuse dumber with simpler. Simpler removes the unnecessary and creates a better outcome as a result. But dumber does little but create noise. Everyone owns a media company now. Even media companies. And with that ownership comes a choice, a choice about the people we serve, the words we use and the change we seek to make.”
Here’s one thing I’ve learned over the years as a creative: The more I focus on how many people it will reach, the less impact it has. The more I focus on how deep it will reach, the more impact it has.
In other words, when I write for distribution, the content suffers. But when I focus on writing from the heart, the better it is received from my audience—and the better I feel about it. A win-win situation.
In Paul Jarvis’s State of the Union, 2018 post, he writes:
“I don’t personally think sharing revenue numbers or income reports make sense, and I’m still not rich like me, but 2017 was my best year to date. Which means even though the audience I serve isn’t growing, more folks in it are buying what I create. I kind of absolutely love that.”
You know what that tells me? His focus is building a smaller audience that loves him, rather than a larger audience that likes him. Paul often refers to this as finding our rat people.
The Power of Creating Art
“‘Artist’ isn’t a superficial label. It’s an identity that forms from doing the work.” — Stefanie Flaxman, Editor-in-Chief at Rainmaker Digital
So you’re a creative, and because you’re a creative, that supposedly means you create stuff, right? Well yes, you are right.
Whether you are a writer, a designer, a podcaster, a marketer (because, yes, that’s different from being a writer), a photographer, or a baker—you are building things with your own hands and minds. We call that content.
Content is an article. Content is a website design. Content is a photograph. And yes, even a gluten-free flourless chocolate cake is content. If you are doing the work, then you are an artist. It’s really that simple, my friends.
Content is everywhere we look, yet it sometimes seems there is never enough of it—rather there is never enough good content. Because that’s a thing, ya know? “Good content sells,” they say.
Which begs the question, “What kind of content do you produce, and what is the underlying reason you are creating it?”
In other words, what is your end game with the content you create?
In her article, The Power of Believing You’re an Artist, Stefanie starts off:
“‘Doing the work’ before you reach professional status in a creative field is often self-directed. Because it’s in your nature to create, you envision and execute your own projects. You know you’re practicing and building your portfolio, even if others ask you, ‘What’s the point?’”
And then she goes on to say:
“You could let that question drain your energy as you try to explain yourself. You could let it distract you. You could let it stop you. But artists don’t.”
You don’t. I don’t. We don’t… stop.
We do the one thing that is in our DNA, the one thing that we were born to do: create art that this world so desperately needs.
Working to Live
As I continue to think about the future of Authentik, there are two factors at play: What I want to do, and who I want to do it for.
Building a tribe of loyal followers—or rat people, as Paul calls them—requires an intentional approach and full devotion. This is something that I embrace, because over the last ten years of being a creative entrepreneur, I have been able to hone in on my sweet spot.
I have come to realize that it’s not about working harder, it’s about working smarter. It’s not about the need for more, it’s about the desire for less. It’s not about living to work, it’s about working to live.
Fellow creative Jason Zook and his wife recently launched a startup. A recent post, Choosing A Business Model That Supports The Lifestyle You Want, struck a chord with me.
They discuss the importance of identifying what’s important to them in a business model and balancing the value equation for sustainability. One thing in particular stood out:
“Listen, we don’t hate money. We very much enjoy money because it affords us the ability to do and support things we love. However, we refuse to buy into the continual growth mindset.”
They are choosing to limit their growth—the amount of people (and dollars) they allow into their membership program.
WHAT? Yes, that is right. They go on to explain:
“Limiting our own growth will give us the ability to work directly with our members and give them an amazing experience. Limiting our growth also allows us to pace ourselves and check in often to make sure how we’re working is still the life we want to be creating for ourselves.”
And then comes the real deal—the best reason of them all:
“Kind of crazy, right? Goes against pretty much all other entrepreneurs and business owners you hear about? Why would anyone say NO to more money? Well, that’s us in a nutshell. At every turn, we’re more concerned about building the lives we want and having a business that supports us. We don’t want to build a business that grows beyond our control and that dictates our lifestyle.”
So I encourage you to ask yourself, “Do I have a business that is growing beyond my control? Am I focusing on living to work, or working to live?”
It’s your honest (and authentic) answer that matters here. More importantly, it’s what you do about your answer that makes all the difference.